Its blitz by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
‘It’s Blitz!’ by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is that difficult third album. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are challenging themselves with heavy synth and a disco drive… but will this change of direction work for their regular fans?
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have spent the last decade creating a playful, dirty sound that has made them one of the foremost rock and roll bands today.
2003’s first full-length studio album ‘Fever to Tell’ gave us ‘Maps’, a major hit single which YYY’s most well-known songs though it’s just one in an ocean of great tracks – this band is the gift that keeps on giving, probably due to the strong dynamics of the group and because it’s an organically-grown, non-plastic band that has its own sound and mission. ‘Fever to Tell’ received an avalanche of critical praise and was even featured in the book ‘1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die’. That’s a big deal when you consider how many albums are floating around in the ether.
‘Zero’ video: Check this out! You can view the official video on youTube but we’re not allowed to embed that one. Here’s ‘Zero’ by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with a FANTASTIC non-official video made by a fan!
‘Show Your Bones’ was released in 2006. Fortunately, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs managed to sail through the potential pitfalls of the ‘difficult second album’. ‘Show Your Bones’ was equally well-received by the critics, getting the same 9/10 from PopMatters and 4/5 from Rolling Stone as ‘Fever to Tell’. NME named ‘Show Your Bones’ the second best album of 2006. It also ranked 44th and 31st on Rolling Stone and Spin’s annual album lists, which isn’t too shabby.
As a band that has been generally consistent in the quality of music they’ve put out, it surely seemed like whatever the Yeah Yeah Yeahs touched would turn to gold. With their newest release, 2009’s ‘It’s Blitz!, the band has taken what they’ve got and injected it with disco. Is this new approach going to work for their regular fans? And is it going to gain them any new ones?
YYY have always had a distinct sound: Fun, brassy and direct, with a little bit of grit (Karen O has no problem doing harsh and sexy vocals against a driving force of guitars and heavy drums) and a whole lot of artistry. You can see why the idea of a YYY dance album would seem a harmonious melding. The album should, in theory, be a great one – and it might be a grower – but initially it seems to fall a bit short of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ former glory.
This album is a bit more experimental than the first two and draws lots of inspiration from disco (think Goldfrapp finding inspiration in disco for their ‘Supernature’ album), whereas the band’s first two albums were clearly rock and knew it.
The album starts off with ‘Zero’ and ‘Heads Will Roll’. Playful and spunky, these two tracks are the most disco-inspired on the album but a slightly misleading representation of the rest of the album. Quite a few of the rest of the tracks are slower and lighter in pace (like ‘Skeletons’ and ‘Runway’), missing out on the energetic, upbeat nature that is present in the beginning of the album. Energy, however, isn’t everything and these tracks really are love ’em or leave ’em because they are straight-up dance tunes that might not be easily accessible to the people who are already familiar with their work and might be expecting something different.
‘Soft Shock’ is the third track off of the album and as the title might imply, one of the softer ones – though still one of the best. It’s got a great melody that can be addictive from first listen while ‘Zero’ and ‘Heads Will Roll’ might need some time to grow on you, especially if you are a regular fan of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and having a hard time making the transition to their non-representative heavy synth and disco sound.
‘Dull Life’ starts off slow and teases us until it grows into something a bit more epic. It builds and gets us back to the banging beats and killer breakdowns that Fever To Tell taught us the band could masterfully create. ‘Shame and Fortune’ offers us a piece of gritty, hip, streetwise sound that is thoroughly enjoyable.
‘Dragon Queen’ is the weakest track on the album. It just doesn’t have the definitive YYY quality to it. It sounds like a dance song that you could hear from virtually any band – and definitely not a good representation of a band that has been known to experiment and try hard to ensure their music is interesting.
The albums ends with ‘Hysteric’ and ‘Little Shadow’ which seem to be the complete opposites of the how the album started out. Both have a slow dreamlike pace which ends the album nicely.
‘It’s Blitz!’ is not so much the ‘difficult second album’ (the Yeah Yeah Yeahs sailed through that) as the ‘difficult third album’. It sounds like the record of a successful band trying to figure out a way to challenge themselves and try something new.
The good news is that, yes, there are a few standout tracks (‘Soft Shock’, ‘Dull Life’ and ‘Shame and Fortune’ stay true to the sound that the band is known for while adding a few new twists). ‘Hysteric’ and ‘Little Shadow’ are ethereal, soft and soothing. ‘Zero’ and ‘Heads Will Roll’ are heavy on disco (so you can take or leave them depending on your musical preferences) and, unfortunately, ‘Dragon Queen’ – while having one of the best titles – is simply leave it.
If you’re into dance or willing not to compare too heavily with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ earlier work, you’ll be in for a fun, though slightly uppy-downy ride. Some might love the album straight off, some might need a period of adjustment while others might simply be put off by the new vibe that the band has adopted for the album.
For existing fans of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it’s worth a listen just to see which side of the coin you’ll land on.